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2018-3-4Lots of copies keep stuff safe
2018-2-19lib.reviews - a platform co-operative?
2018-1-20Major update to freeyourstuff.cc browser extension

Teams are groups of like-minded people reviewing things of common interest. Here are a few examples:

Sushi SocietyNonprofit MediaLanguage Learning

4 stars
My go-to browser on iOS to quickly look something up

To be upfront: Firefox Focus[1] for iOS is not a full-featured browser. And it doesn’t aim to be. It has no bookmarks, no tabs and doesn’t store your browsing history. When you close it and re-open it after a while, it will have forgotten all your logged in websites. And it also isn’t a browser in the sense that even though it is called “Firefox”, it is using Apple’s WebKit engine to render websites, not the Firefox engine. (This last point is not a voluntary decision, as Apple does not allow third-party browser engines on iOS.)

However, just because it is not a full-featured browser, it is perfect to quickly look something up on the go: It is fast, uncluttered and dead simple to use. It blocks trackers and ads, greatly speeding up page loading times especially on slow connections (although it can be a bit overzealous on some websites). And because it forgets by design, it preserves your privacy (both against the pervasive tracking on the Internet as well as against someone who looks through your phone).

At first, I was pretty sceptical about the concept - but now I have to say that more likely than not I will tap on Firefox instead of Safari when I just want to quickly look at some website on my iPhone. Sometimes I would still wish for simple bookmarks, but maybe it is a good thing that wishes like those remain unfulfilled: they would compromise its simplicity and thus its value.

[1]: Or “Firefox Klar”, as it is called in the German-speaking countries where it is by default even a bit more private.

SkyGrand 45W Magsafe 2 T-Tip Charger for MacBook Air 11 "13"
5 stars
Tut, was es soll  de

Das Ladegerät ist pünktlich wie angegeben bei mir angekommen und tut, was es soll für knapp 30 Euro. Die Verarbeitung wirkt auf den ersten Blick gut.

1 star
No redeeming qualities

We were looking for a quick thing to watch on Amazon Prime Video last night and Robot Trains has always been a recommended show for me (really my 6 year old).

We gave it a try. Immediately I could tell it was not worth our time (12 minute episodes).

Pointless violence (the trains are fighting in anime type ways), pointless conflict, the dialog was the worst form of Star Trek technical filler because that’s pretty much the entirety of the dialog.

All in all, I’m sorry we watched it.

4 stars
Best automated online translator, beating Google hands-down

DeepL is a machine-learning based online translator, similar to Google Translate and others: You enter text in the box on the left and it will output the text translated to another language in the box on the right. In my experience (mainly translating between English, German and/or French) it provides very, very impressive and definitely far better results than any other automated translator I have tested. The translation is almost always very understandable and often nearly flawless.

They also provide a (paid) API if you want to use DeepL translations in your own products.

Only downsides (and why it only gets four stars):

  • It only supports relatively few European languages compared to Google Translate (English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Polish; in particular no Chinese or other Asian languages).
  • It cannot translate whole webpages, you always need to copy-&-paste the specific text you want to translate.
  • While it is the best automated translator on the market, it is still not as good as a human translator.

5 stars
Best crowdfunding platform with the lowest fees

Liberapay is a platform for recurrent donations to creators and other individuals or organisations worth supporting. Sign-up, loading money and setting up your recurrent donations is straight-forward, so that you really have no excuse not to support your favorite creators.

Contrary to its commercial counterparts (such as Patreon), Liberapay is a non-profit, its code is open source and it does not take a cut (except for payment fees) from the money flowing between donors and recipients. Payment fees are kept low by offering SEPA bank transfers in addition to credit card payments. This means that significantly more of your money will actually reach the intended recipient instead of paying for the profits of venture capital investors.

The only potential downside is that Liberapay is strictly a donations platform: you cannot provide “perks” to your supporters as is possible with Patreon and others. The reason for this is that this way you are really receiving donations and not providing a service, which I guess might make things easier depending on your countries’ laws (e.g. regarding taxes, social security, and/or liability).

5 stars
Best OpenStreetMap Navigation App for iOS

I prefer OpenStreetMap, the open map data, to commercial offerings such as Google or (yikes!) Apple Maps - because of its open spirit, because anyone can contribute and improve the map, because you don’t get tracked about your every move and also simply because in many places in Europe OpenStreetMap these days has actually better, more accurate data.

However, OpenStreetMap is just a database - they provide a website to browse the map (openstreetmap.org), but no navigation apps or other tools when you are on the go. However, OpenStreetMap doesn’t need to, because – as the data is freely available – everyone can build navigation apps on top of the data source.

This is where Magic Earth comes into play: It uses OpenStreetMap data and I use their iPhone app almost daily:

  • It provides frequent map updates: OpenStreetMap receives updates from contributors every second, but it will take a while for that to feed into your favorite navigation app, with Magic Earth providing sufficiently frequent updates in my opinion.

  • It provides offline maps for free: you can download as many maps as you like (and you have storage space for) to your device, meaning you can use them offline when there is no cellphone reception, you are roaming abroad or you just want to save on bandwidth. And, contrary to some other offline maps, it also supports searching for addresses or points-of-interests (POI) while you are offline.

  • It provides beautiful maps (3D views etc.) and a useful selection of POIs (restaurants etc.) which makes it easy to find your way around even if you’re not using the navigation mode.

  • It implements a very good routing algorithm, providing different choices of shortest, fastest etc. routes and can take into account traffic conditions in many regions of the world.

  • It’s navigation mode provides very clear indications and also supports lane indications (if the lanes have been mapped in OpenStreetMap, which unfortunately is not yet the case everywhere but is improving) and max speed warnings.

  • It is free.

For me, Magic Earth is the best navigation app on iOS, beating competitors such as Maps.me (which I also like), primarily due to its superior navigation features, POI (points-of-interest) selection and just general usability. The latter, of course, is very subjective and your tastes may vary – but since Magic Earth is free, you might just as well give it a try and delete it again if you don’t like it!

5 stars
Recommended on your way to Mont Orford

We had dinner here on our way to Parc National du Mont Orford, finding this restaurant by accident, and we have seldomly been so lucky: We already knew we were in for a treat based on how busy the restaurant was, and we were not disappointed: Far from the ubiquitous burgers, Pinocchio presents a varied menu of dishes, and all of which we tasted were excellent!

The portions are reasonable, which means that you might be disappointed if you are into huge portions. However, this also means that you will have room for a dessert, which is a huge upside: definitely try the “Mi-Cuit” if you are a chocolate lover, or the “Pudding Chômeur” if you are more the maple fan.

4 stars
Servizio molto ben fatto  it

Questo servizio è probabilmente uno dei migliori per imparare una lingua, è interattivo e semplice.

3 stars
A light introduction to a complex thinker who challenged economics orthodoxy

Derek Wall is a British ecosocialist and academic; if you live in the UK you may also recognize him as the Green Party candidate in Theresa May’s Maidenhead constituency. His book, “Elinor Ostrom’s Rules for Radicals”, is a ~120 page overview of Elinor Ostrom’s work. Ostrom (d. 2012) was a political economist who focused extensively on the concept of the commons, a set of shared resources available to all members of a community. In 2009, she was co-recipient of a Nobel Prize for Economics.

Wall attempts to draw lessons from Ostrom’s work that may be useful to political activists. He describes Ostrom as a pragmatic problem-solver not drawn to a specific ideology, though committed to democratic and participatory co-creation of solutions. Ostrom specifically challenged the “tragedy of the commons”, a concept popularized by Garrett Hardin—the idea that common pool resources (such as grazing lands) are doomed to degradation due to overuse by selfishly motivated individuals.

Through broad, multi-disciplinary research Ostrom demonstrated that there are countless examples of successful commons. She derived from this a set of design principles for sustainable management of commons resources. Wall’s book motivated me to read Garrett Hardin’s original essay, and I find it frankly astonishing that the idea of a “tragedy” of the commons gained so much credence to begin with. Hardin’s 1968 essay is mostly about population control in line with the kind of neo-Malthusianism that was very fashionable at the time. It concludes:

The only way we can preserve and nurture other and more precious freedoms is by relinquishing the freedom to breed, and that very soon.

Hardin’s ideas are so reductionist that I find it hard to take them seriously at all. My impression is that Ostrom deconstructed, through solid empirical and theoretical work, an argument that rested on very weak foundations to begin with.

Elinor Ostrom. Manitoulin Island, 1968. (Credit: Elinor Ostrom Collection, The Lilly Library. Fair use.)

But Wall’s book only dedicates one of ten chapters to the commons. His “rules for radicals” are a broader reflection on Ostrom’s work and approach. Wall reminds us repeatedly (to the point of tedium) that Ostrom herself a) was not a radical, b) was a pragmatist, c) was a problem-solver, d) was very collaborative. With this framing, he examines her approach to topics like climate change, or to economic activity that is not easily captured in the classical distinctions of market vs. state.

Interspersed are Wall’s own observations regarding contemporary politics, from the revival of right-wing populism to the experiment in democratic confederalism known as Rojava. He also contrasts Ostrom’s economic views with Marxist theory, and attempts to examine potential blind spots they share.

Unfortunately, the book does not stay with any subject long enough to convey deep insights. For instance, Wall mentions the intersection of Ostrom’s thinking about the commons with projects like Wikipedia. But he does not examine this topic closely, and indeed towards the end commits the faux pas of calling Uber an “open source transportation service” (Uber is no such thing).

The Verdict

Wall’s effort to make Ostrom’s work more accessible to a broad audience is commendable. However, this particular book only gives a very light introduction. It provides only a few quotes from Ostrom’s own work, perhaps enough to whet your appetite. While short, the book is a bit more tedious than it needs to be because the author repeats himself quite frequently.

That could have been avoided through more rigorous editing, along with smaller issues such as sentences with swallowed words or syllables. 3.5 out of 5 stars, rounded down.

4 stars
My favorite French learning app

Babbel is my favorite app to learn a foreign language (French, in my case) and I use their website and iOS app for learning.

While I started out with Duolingo (which, contrary to Babbel, is free), in my experience Duolingo will become pretty repetitive quite soon and you will reach the end of their learning ladder without really speaking the language all that well. Babbel includes a ton of content for learning French, which starts with the basics but moves on to very advanced vocabulary – I’m still not all the way through it! I also prefer that they actually have human-made dialogues (some of them are actually quite nice mini-stories) and actually explain the grammar to you (not only by trail-and-error translation exercises but by actually explaining the concepts behind it).

Thanks to Babbel, I feel far more confident speaking French these days. I would argue that none of these apps can replace human interaction, especially to train your speaking skills, so you might still want to invest in a French teacher, but they are a good way to get started and for low-friction learning when you’re waiting for a bus etc.

What I would prefer is for Babbel to include more gamification like Duolingo does - you can argue that it is a bit sad to need such artificial encouragement to stay on it, but I will admit that Duolingo’s “streaks” and points really do motivated me to keep going, while Babbel requires more self-discipline. If they would include these features, they would get five stars from me.

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